By Karen Brainard
An emergency evacuation route for Ramona is still in the works but has run into a few snags with the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD).
Water district directors discussed concerns at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
Although board members and staff expressed the urgency for a route, four main concerns were identified if vehicles were to travel along the north property line of the Santa Maria sewer plant.
San Diego County’s Department of Parks and Recreation has been working with RMWD, Ramona Community Planning Group, Cal Fire and the county’s Department of Public Works to establish an evacuation route that would cut across land north of the Ramona Airport. It would head west from Montecito Way through property known as the Davis/Eagle Ranch, which is part of the county Grasslands Preserve, to connect to Rangeland Road.
It was the section between the county-owned land and Rangeland Road that brought the water district into the discussion. In between lies the north property line of RMWD’s Santa Maria sewer plant where spray fields are located.
No improvements to the land are intended, which means residents would drive over grass fields or a dirt path should the need arise for an emergency evacuation.
RMWD has the following concerns:
•San Diego Gas and Electric utility poles are near the alignment of the proposed route. RMWD staff is recommending the county pursue negotiations with SDG&E to underground the power in that area.
•The Stephen’s Kangaroo Rat has been found on the property and staff is recommending the county or SDG&E mitigate for impacts to the endangered species.
•To mitigate for loss of effluent disposal land, staff is recommending that RMWD request in exchange county-owned property currently being sprayed upon through a lease agreement.
•The evacuation route would need to be mowed and maintained.
RMWD Assistant General Manager David Barnum also noted that vehicles could find the route difficult if the land is wet from the spraying of effluent and if it’s dark outside.
“Vehicles will get stuck in spray fields,” he said.
Mike Metz from Dudek Engineering said improvements to the Santa Maria plant call for changing the spray fields to terraced evaporation ponds.
“If it is a dark night and there’s a fire…they need a clear delineation of where they can drive,” said Metz.
Barnum said he met with county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who offered to help the water district with SDG&E.
“Ultimately staff did not want to delay this process,” said Barnum.
Ramona planning group Chair Jim Piva, Vice Chair Bob Hailey and Secretary Kristi Mansolf attended the meeting in support of the route. Mansolf emphasized to the board the need for an emergency evacuation route.
“I encourage open communication with all agencies involved,” she said.
Piva noted that, since the 2003 Cedar Fire, an evacuation route still has not been established.
“I think some of the concerns can be mitigated,” he said. He suggested the board meet with the county about the concerns.
The board unanimously voted to direct RMWD staff to prepare a letter to the county supervisors requesting the county partner with RMWD and take the lead in negotiations with SDG&E and pursue staff’s recommendations. Board President Bryan Wadlington was absent.
Once the letter is drafted, it will be brought back to the board for final approval, said RMWD General Manager Ralph McIntosh.
In other RMWD news:
•McIntosh said SDG&E is replacing wooden utility poles with steel poles and requested power be shut off at RMWD’s Poway pump station during the work. The shut off was to begin on Monday, Aug. 29, for 12 hours every other day, said McIntosh. Athough it could take about 11 days, McIntosh said there is the possibility SDG&E could be done in four days.
He said water customers should not be affected and should not see any decrease in service, but he conveyed to the board he was not happy with SDG&E’s request. Originally the utility company asked for power to be shut down for 11 consecutive days, said McIntosh.
“I said this is the worst time you could be performing an operation like this for us,” McIntosh said. “It’s an issue that concerns us.”
If a fire starts, McIntosh will contact SDG&E to stop and immediately turn the power back on.
“They heard it all,” he said.
McIntosh said the water district will seek reimbursements from SDG&E for any overtime or additional costs related to the shut down.
The poles are being installed near Maderas Golf Course in Poway, he said. The steel poles will be able to withstand 85 mph winds versus wooden poles that can sustain 56 mph winds.
•RMWD is looking for a finance manager. McIntosh is scheduled to retire as general manager Oct. 7 and will be replaced by Barnum, the district’s chief financial officer who has also been serving as assistant general manager to learn the job. McIntosh said the duties of general manager and CFO would be too much for one person, so a finance manager will be hired. The position will pay approximately $100,000 to $120,000 per year and include benefits.